Every year around this time the Baseball Hall of Fame adds new members, and most of the time I don’t really have an argument against who gets in. This year was no different, I have no issue with Derek Jeter or Larry Walker being inducted. What makes me really nuts though is when getting in isn’t enough and people have to try and push a notion that Jeter was “the best” short stop ever, or how dare anyone not vote for him.
Having the longest history of any American Sports league provides an incredibly rich and deep collection of players and events to call back on, but how can you compare what Jeter did in his career to even a player like Ozzie Smith?
So much has changed in our game, for instance when I was a youngster Ozzie Smith was the absolute pinnacle of excellence at short stop and what he could do with a bat in his hands rarely came into the conversation. In 9,396 at bats, Ozzie’s lifetime numbers were less than stellar. 28 total homeruns, .262 batting average. Now if you’re a WAR person, 76.9 is incredible but The Wizard’s game WAS defense and he was quite simply the best I’d seen in my short life.
Would Ozzie have even been considered for the hall if he came up today as opposed to 2002? Would a player like this have a 19-year career in today’s game?
Ok, I hear you, the shortstop position changed forever when Jeter and Alex Rodriguez came along. But it’s not just differences in the type of ballplayers. The ball the game is played with has quite literally changed countless times. The bats are now made with harder wood and less irregularities. Hell, the game started with no gloves and fans literally sat in the outfield. Incredible players like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson weren’t even allowed to compete. Steroids, cheating, shifts, relief specialists, closers, the list goes on and on.
So how do you actually have conversations about legacy players and modern players? Many people my age will hear often from our slight elders that Roberto Clemente was the best and there hasn’t been one close. I won’t argue that, but I can tell you my Grandpa thought it was Ralph Kiner. For me it was Barry Bonds, if my kids were into the sport anywhere near the way I was growing up they might say Mike Trout.
Maybe the answer is actually that there is no answer. There is no right or wrong when we discuss these things. How can I intelligently argue with someone that Clemente wasn’t as good as Bonds, especially if the person I’m talking to has had the benefit of seeing both play while I’ve only seen one.
I think I’d say this about the Hall of Fame which actually spawned this entire train of thought. If we went back and re-examined everyone who’s in already, many of the numbers wouldn’t add up, or in some cases will remain untouchable forever. Take Jack Morris, he probably hung around a bit too long, pitching for 18 seasons and finished with 254 wins. This is a number that on the surface when he retired was about 46 short of the predetermined threshold for starting pitcher excellence in his day. Today that number is unheard of, let alone 300. In fact, today we constantly tell each other that Wins don’t matter. The veterans committee stepped in and selected Jack for the Hall in 2018, but he absolutely was not going to get in with the writers. Now, beside looking a bit like Magnum PI and playing for my favorite cheat team of the 80s, the Tigers, I have no dog in this fight. But if that guy, with those stats was a questionable entry, how can you argue for someone like Justin Verlander who if he pitches another 3 seasons will match Jack for longevity and most likely finish in a dead heat for wins. I’ve already heard national “experts” calling him a sure-fire Hall of Famer and I can’t really argue but why wasn’t it enough for Jack?
Think about players like Kirk Gibson who could have had modern medicine repair his torn-up knees and easily given himself more productive years. Think of all the pitchers who “blew out their arm” before Tommy John had his ligament repair surgery that changed the sport forever.
Soon there will be more changes to the game, it’s just the way it is today. Robot umps, replay, Buster Posey rule, elimination of the neighborhood play, the list goes on and on. While the Hall of Fame is the reason this came to my mind, it’s also a reminder of the fact that mankind is flawed and anything that comes from the judgement of mankind will be open to questioning.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007